Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blessings to all in this season of hope

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

Christmas, like every year, offers us the chance to once again look at our lives and to accept the blessing of hope which is so important to all of us. No matter what we are going through or what we have gone through, there is a deep hunger lingering in each of us for hope. Hope that things will be better; hope that things can be reconciled; hope that the future is welcoming towards us. I think everybody desires, deep down inside, something better and the best thing in life is the hope that God gives us and that is what we celebrate in this Christmas season – God’s true eternal promise of hope that he gives to us as a gift.

I sincerely believe that deep down in every human person there is a hunger to relate with that that is eternal, the creator, the someone, the something that is greater than us. At the Christmas season, we who are Christians believe that that presence became human in the person of Jesus the Christ.

I want to say to all of the people of the diocese, of San Bernardino and Riverside counties and to all who read this blog that I join you in the hope that you have for a better world; for a stronger and just country and for family relationships that can celebrate the true meaning of family. I join you in hope that our celebration of this Christmas might be a true blessing; that it might be renewal and strength for our own lives and the lives of our loved ones. I extend my prayers and my blessings to all.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Music is more than Just a Marketing Tool

By Steve Valenzuela
Director, Small Faith Communities

The holiday music began early this year on the radio (way before Thanksgiving) and at first I was annoyed. My inner Grinch came through and in a John the Baptist like prophetic speech, I leapt to Advent’s defense. Still, I started to listen to the music on the radio and heard that the local station thought we needed the music a little earlier this year. The downturn, the loss of so many jobs and homes meant many of us would not have the kind of Christmas we had given our families and children and grandchildren in the recent past. My green Grinch-like heart experienced a little metanoia (conversion). I thought the station manager, even though I knew Christmas music brings in great ratings, was right. We as a people, even the faith community, need the hope and vision of Advent and Christmas this year in ways stronger than other years in recent history.

Music, even silly Christmas songs, hold memories, hopes and dreams for the kind of world God envisions. His plan for humanity is one of peace, harmony, fullness of life and completeness, a world where all children have enough to eat, a warm and safe place to live, the elderly are honored for their experience and wisdom and all families can provide for their basic needs including health care and education. The struggles of this past year are not God’s desire for us, they are signs of the humanity’s refusal to join in God’s plans. Unfortunately many of us have and will suffer the cost of the social and personal sins of individuals and institutions that created the current economic downturn. The truth is our choices do matter and hopefully this hard lesson will not be lost on us too soon. In 2010, a good resolution might be to keep up the changes we’ve made due to economic crisis.

In my household, at the writing of this article during the Second Week, there is an Advent wreath on display, a few of the early bird Christmas cards and a wonderful but empty Christmas Cookie Jar. No tree or lights yet. The holiday music is playing though, and the sounds of Broadway-like songs celebrating winter, spiritual carols announcing Christ’s birth and playful jingles about flirting with Santa or rocking around the tree bring a smile to my face on these seasonally appropriate cold mornings.

As I was listening to the various music on the radio, I noted that I have not yet heard this year the one Christmas song that I believe captures well God’s vision for the coming of the Messiah, Emmanuel/God-With-Us that Advent prepares and Christmas celebrates:

Grown-up Christmas List
Do you remember me
I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies
Well I'm all grown-up now
And still need help somehow
I'm not a childBut my heart still can dream
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need

[Chorus:]No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
Everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list

As children we believed
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely
Wrapped beneath our tree
Well heaven surely knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal a hurting human soul


What is this illusion called
The innocence of youth
Maybe only in our blind belief
Can we ever find the truth


For Sharing and Reflection…

What is on your grown up Christmas list? How will you help bring it about in 2010?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

At the Crossroads: The Meaning of Simbang-Gabi

By Father Ben Alforque
St. Catherine of Alexandria Parish, Riverside

The Filipino community of our parish is once again sharing with us the faith-expression of their Advent and Christmas celebration, Philippine-style: the Simbang-Gabi. It is thus timely to explain what this Simbang-Gabi is all about, and the way it is celebrated.

Simbang-Gabi literally means “Evening Mass.” It is a nine-day novena in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary as Mother of God. It prepares the people for the birth of Christ on Christmas day. This novena begins in December 16th, and in the Philippines, is celebrated at 4 AM (Misa de Gallo=Mass when the cock crows), and culminates with a Misa de Aguinaldo (Mass of the Gift) at midnight of the 24th of December. Jesus Christ our Savior is God’s Gift to humanity and to all of creation through Mary!

Because we are celebrating the Motherhood of Mary in view of the Birth of Christ, ergo, our celebration is festive, full of Christmas decors and songs, where the Gloria is sung and the liturgical color of the vestments and of the altar is white.

(On the other hand, the Advent season is our celebration of our expectation of the Lord’s Second Coming in glory. It is penitential in tone. Therefore, the color is purple - except for the Third Sunday of Advent whose theme is joy, where the color rose may be used - and the Gloria is not sung.)

In the Philippines, the streets are lighted up with lanterns (the parol), signifying the star that led the wise men to Jesus. In the villages, streets, homes and chapels are decorated with fresh fruits, like bananas, and passersby may just freely pick them for food. The people are roused from sleep by the tolling of the church bells at 2:00 am, and a band may roam around the village streets to proclaim a new day of joy. Churches and chapels overflow with people, as whole families attend the Simbang-Gabi. The festive mood goes back to the homes after the mass, as people partake of their breakfast delicacies.

Historically, Simbang-Gabi dates back to 1587, when a Fray Diego de Soria asked the Pope for permission to hold Yuletide masses outdoors, because the church could not accommodate the multitude attending the dawn masses. Why dawn masses? So that the fisherfolks coming from the seas, and the farmers leaving for their farms would have a common time to celebrate the Eucharist and the novena together, at daybreak! When Pope Sixtus V decreed through a papal bull that these dawn masses be held annually in the Philippines, the Simbang-Gabi tradition was born. Here, Bishop Barnes has allowed Filipino communities to share this faith-experience to all. Maligayang Pasko!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guadalupe: Magnetismo sin fin

Por Petra Alexander
Directora, Ofecina de Asuntos Hispanos

Muchas personas me han preguntado si en esta diócesis tenemos una Misa con algún programa para reunir a todas las parroquias el 12 de Diciembre, y les respondo que es imposible, porque Guadalupe es una celebración expandida en todas las parroquias donde hay hispanos. Esta manera de celebrar es el fruto de una larga jornada de trabajo pastoral que comenzó con los primeros catequistas y agentes pastorales. La mayoría de ellos fue gente trabajadora que pedió a la Iglesia de USA un lugar para el icono mas representativo de su raza y un reconocimiento para su modo de vivir la fe.
He escuchado sabrosas historias de viejos, como Heriberto Rojas de Victorville, Josefina Olivas de Corona, Rita Izquierdo de Indio… quienes relatan cómo reunían a los hispanos en los campos de siembra, en los lugares de trabajo, en los parques, para darse ánimo en la determinación de pedir la celebración de La Morenita. Poco a poco la imagen de la virgen desde un jardín hacia un pasillo, después un salón, hasta que entro al tempo, tuvo un altar para congregar a sus hijos.

Actualmente, las comunidades están organizadas: Grupos Guadalupanos, grupos parroquiales de música y danza, escenificaciones teatrales, poesías, comida, decoraciones. Todos los elementos de las artes populares se dan cita en las comunidades que componen nuestra Diócesis. Incluso en los lugares más inesperados como en la prisión de mujeres, nos encontramos con la sorpresa de encontrar rosas de papel y la imagen dibujada en una sabana por las prisioneras. En la Base Militar de Yuca Valley, se permitió la entrada de danzantes y mariachis. El 12 de Diciembre se pueden escuchar pirecuas en tarasco en Meca, sones mayas en Riverside, se pueden ver bailes veracruzanos en Rubidux, sones de Jalisco en Fontana, danzantes concheros en Hesperia, Ontario, Chino, carros alegóricos en Redlands, peregrinaciones inter-parroquiales como el camino de San Juan Diego en Riverside y la mas grande de todas: Caminata Guadalupana desde Palms Spring hasta Coachella, solo por mencionar algunos. Hay en esta Diócesis un verdadero patronazgo de Nuestra Sra de Guadalupe, hecho fe, cultura y esperanza.

La comunidad inmigrante de San Bernardino experimenta de diversas maneras que Guadalupe es compañera de camino, es una presencia protectora que está donde están sus hijos. Te invito a que compartas en este Blog las experiencias celebrativas de tu comunidad local.

Guadalupe: Endless Magnetism

By Petra Alexander
Director, Office of Hispanic Affairs

Many people have asked me if in this diocese we have a Mass with some sort of program to gather all the parishes on December 12. I answer them that this is impossible because Guadalupe is a celebration throughout all the parishes that Hispanics attend. This way of celebrating is more the fruit of a long journey of pastoral work that began with the first catechists and pastoral agents. Most of them were working class people who asked the American Church for a place for the most representative icon of their race and an acknowledgement of their way to live faith.

I have heard delicious stories from old folks, like Heriberto Rojas from Victorville, Josefina Olivas from Corona and Rita Izquierdo from Indio, where they tell that they gathered the Hispanics in the sowing fields, in working places and in parks to encourage them to ask for a celebration for their dark-skinned virgin. Little by little the image of the virgin travelled from the garden to a corridor, and then to a room until it entered the temple and then it had an altar to gather her sons and daughters.

At present, communities are organized in Guadalupan groups, parish groups of music and dance, stage plays, poetry, food and decorations. All the elements of the popular arts come together in the communities that make up our diocese. Even in unexpected places like the Women’s prison, we are surprised to find paper roses and her image painted over a bed sheet by the inmates. At the military base of Twentynine Palms they allowed the entrance of folk dancers and the mariachi. On December 12 you can hear Pirecuas in Tarascan at Mecca, Mayan sones in Riverside, Veracruzan dances in Rubidoux, sones from Jalisco in Fontana, Aztec dancers in Hesperia, Ontario and Chino, parade floats in Redlands, inter-parish pilgrimages like the San Juan Diego Road in Riverside, and the largest of all, the Guadalupan Walk from Palm Springs to Coachella, just to mention a few. In this diocese there is a real patronage for Our Lady of Guadalupe built from faith, culture and hope.

The immigrant community of San Bernardino demonstrates in several ways that Guadalupe is their road companion. It is a protecting presence where her sons and daughters are. I invite you to share in this blog the celebrating experiences of your local community.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

On faith and grace and dying

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director, Department of Community Services
This story is sad and sweet, and I am compelled to write it. It is about faith and grace and dying. It is a story of the journey of one woman, whom I will call Ann.

Ann was a good friend of my step mom Ruth and my dad. They met some 14 or so years ago, after Ann moved to Hemet and got sober. At the age of 61, Ann, who had been a practicing alcoholic for her adult life, somehow decided that she was tired of being drunk. With $20 in her purse and a small suitcase, she left her husband, also a drunk, got on a bus and got as far away from home as she could. That was Beaumont. She got off the bus and walked into a police station and asked for help. With their assistance, she wound up in a residential rehab for women in Hemet. She remained clean and sober for the rest of her life. She lived by herself. She helped out with the homeless shelter and the recovery home from time to time.

My dad has not been doing well this year. He had a stroke in December 2008 and requires assistance with daily living. He is clear and lucid and remains a person of strong faith. Because of the time Ruth has spent taking care of him, she had not been in as close contact with Ann as usual.

Recently Dad had to go to the hospital as a day patient. While there, Ruth discovered that her friend Ann was also a patient. Ann had gone to the hospital in an ambulance in the middle of the night. When Ruth found her, she was very close to death from advanced cancer.

Ruth happened to be there when Fr. Joseph Deniger came into her room. Ann had been away from the Church for decades. Father asked her if she would like to receive, Ann said she couldn’t. They reminded her that none of us are worthy. She did receive communion and she was anointed. That was on a Thursday.

Ann was released from the hospital on hospice, but she had no where to go, so Ruth and my dad took her into their home. When she arrived at their home she was still conscious and could talk, but she was actively dying. By the next day she was comatose. She died November 16 at 9:04 a.m.

Our days are full of events that might seem to be coincidences or random chances. Yet these are often the grace of God breaking into our lives, giving us unique opportunities for service or even conversion. Let us give thanks for the “random” acts of grace that impact our lives and our deaths, that bring us closer to each other and thereby, closer to God.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bingo as a Religious Experience

By Rick Howick
Principal of St. Catherine of Alexandria School, Riverside

I moved toward the office door with the cash boxes out. The knock told me my timing was good. Family Bingo was about to begin and the line for cards and daubers was already forming. Within a half hour, the parish hall was full of families sitting down with pre-paid pizza and one dollar hot dogs. Nothing yet had officially begun as I had not said the all important words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” At that point, we had begun – our gathering of smiling children and chatting parents had transformed into a community event for our parish school.

The real strength in being Catholic is clear to Catholic school principals. Our faith is not so much a belief system as it is a life-system. Take Catholic education, one of the most intense of parish ministries. Our parents are thrust into small faith communities called “classroom parents” when their children start kindergarten. They spend the next nine years of their lives working with the other parents in their parent groups running their children to field trips, working soda booths at festival, and daubing bingo cards on family nights. All of it is done in the context of Catholic ministry, and all done for others – their children, and the children of their fellow parents. After nine years of this (assuming just one child – we have parents who have been with us more than two decades), the parents have formed close relationships with people they never would have hoped to know ten years previously, relationships which will last a lifetime.

That is real Catholic ministry, building strong Catholic families. A study by CARA (a Catholic research group from Georgetown University: Catholic Schooling and Disaffiliation from Catholicism, by Paul Perl and Mark M. Gray, 2006) showed that our children are most likely to remain actively Catholic if they form strong and lasting Catholic relationships such as those in Catholic elementary and High Schools, and in parish youth groups. That doesn’t mean going to Mass isn’t important – on the contrary, encountering the body of Christ is the whole point of Catholicism. And that is found not only in the Eucharist, but in the Body of Christ known as the people of God. The stronger we build those relationships, the closer to Christ we grow.

Toward the end of the evening as the six-year-old passed me with a huge slice of chocolate pie, she looked up and smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Howick.” And I could only smile back while I thought the word, Bingo!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Not your father’s Missal

By John Andrews
Director, Department of Communications

Our response is instinctive. When the priest says to us, “the Lord be with you.”

“And also with you…”

Get ready to forget what you know. Some of these familiar responses are gone in favor of new ones.

Beginning some time in the next 12-18 months, Catholics in the United States will start using a new English translation of the Roman Missal, which sets forth the prayers and recitations said at Mass. The U.S. Bishops gave their final stamp of approval to the English translation at their Fall Meeting in Baltimore on Tuesday.

Now comes the arduous unlearning and relearning at the diocesan and parish levels. For some the changes will feel akin to learning a new version of the pledge of allegiance. A few examples:

  • “And also with you” becomes “and with your spirit.”

  • In the Nicene Creed – “one in being with the Father” becomes “consubstantial with the Father.”

  • “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…” becomes “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

In their final discussion of the translation this week, the bishops seemed to acknowledge that changing the ingrained responses would not please everyone. “In an undertaking this large there’s bound to be something for everyone to dislike,” quipped Archbishop George Niederauer, who called the process “sincere and hard fought.” Indeed, some, led by Bishop Donald Trautman (Diocese of Erie, PA), wanted to keep debating the new verbiage.

But most of the bishops were ready to put the Missal to bed, evidenced in the vote that carried nearly 90% approval and the audible sighs of relief that followed the Tuesday afternoon general session when the new Missal was approved.

The English language version is intended to be a more literal translation of the latest Latin texts approved over a decade ago. Bishops also hailed the new Missal as an opportunity for Catholics to renew and deepen the experience of the Mass. While we’re learning these new words and phrases we might actually reflect more on their meaning, goes the thinking.

And while it might seem like the present version of the Missal was printed on stone tablets, it is probably worth noting that the Missal has been retranslated many times, most recently after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

So this linguistic journey we are about to take in our liturgy might be seen as the carrying on of Catholic tradition. “The words used in liturgy pass on the faith of one generation of the Church to the next,” said Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, who presented the final changes to the Conference.

Besides, we’ll have our missalettes to get us through, right?

“And with your spirit…”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bishops sounding moral voice in the public square

By John Andrews
Director, Department of Communications

A number of major news outlets including CNN, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have focused recently on what they call an aggressive campaign by the Catholic Church in America to shape health care reform legislation. The Church lobbied successfully into the 11th hour, they note, to prevent public funding of elective abortion in the House bill that eventually passed.

As the Bishops gather in Baltimore this week for their Fall meeting, the unapologetic presence of the Church in the public policy arena is, indeed, hanging in the air. The Bishops are again stepping into the fray on the subject of marriage with consideration of a new pastoral letter “Married Love and Life and the Divine Plan.” The letter was described Monday as part of the ongoing pastoral initiative on marriage that began five years ago. But it was also described as an invitation to Catholics and people of good will to defend and promote marriage as being between one man and one woman – a direct reference to the ongoing battle over same sex marriage.

Also on the agenda at this week’s meeting, the Church’s stance on reproductive technologies and a potential revision of policy on advanced directives for end-of-life care – both issues capable of fostering vigorous political discussion. _______________________________________story continues below

At their Fall meeting in Baltimore, U.S. bishops respond to questions about recent high profile advocacy by the Church in national public policy issues. From left to right, Bishop William Murphy (Rockville Centre, NY), Archbishop George Niederauer (San Francisco), Cardinal Francis George (Chicago) and Bishop John Wester (Salt Lake City).
Health care reform didn’t look to have a prominent place in the Bishops’ deliberations. That is until Cardinal Francis George raised the issue during the first hour of the first general session of the meeting. Cardinal George, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, struck a steadfast tone in reviewing the events of recent weeks and offering a response to charges that the Church overly involved itself in politics.

“Long before these issues became political, they were moral questions,” Cardinal George said.

By the end of the session, the Bishops had voted to make Cardinal George’s recent letter on health care reform an official statement of the Conference. Later, at a press conference following the general session, Cardinal George and other bishops involved in public policy issues, showed no signs of retreating from the recent strategy on health care reform legislation, saying they will lobby U.S. Senators with the same intensity. Reporters questioned the Bishops about the context of the Pastoral Letter on marriage within the context of recent same-sex marriage votes in Maine and Washington state. Again, they did not shy away from the public policy connection.

“The American people seem to resonate more with the idea that marriage is what it is,” Bishop William Murphy told reporters at the press conference. “No amount of public pressure can redefine it as something that it isn’t.”

Early Tuesday, Bishop John Wester raised another high profile public policy issue – immigration reform. He announced a new grassroots effort to spur the Catholic faithful to lobby their local legislators to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

At the same time, the Bishops put forth the idea that the Church is not interested in politics so much as it feels bound to voice the teachings of the Gospel – hardly a new development in the history of the Catholic Church, they note.

Said Bishop Murphy, “The issues are both moral and political. Our job is to be the moral voice.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Remember the Holy Souls

By Rev. Antonio Das Neves
Pastor, St. Vincent Ferrer, Sun City

This month of the Holy Souls (November), it is well for us to stop and think for a moment about our helpless members of the Church suffering – the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Perhaps many of our relatives, friends and acquaintances are numbered among them – souls who have died many years ago, but have been forgotten by us. This is not due to a lack of gratitude or love on our part, but often we are swallowed up with bills to be paid, families to be fed, a job that occupies our mind and taxes our physical resources all day. There are a million and one things to occupy our minds and so we tend to forget the Silent Sufferers.

Many times there are crosses in life – they are big and small – but if we take them as they come, realizing that God has sent them for a purpose, and offer them for the Holy Souls, again we can help them reach heaven. So, a headache borne in silence and for the love of God and the Holy Souls may perhaps save one soul centuries of suffering. Act of self-denial and small acts of penance are good works to help the Holy Souls. It can be giving an offering to the poor! Be assured that if you remember the poor souls they will never forget you.

As a priest, I remember those souls near and dear to me every day in the Mass and all those for whom I celebrated the funerals. This year I filled out the All Souls envelope and the list was larger than the spaces provided and included also in the Novena which is said in the parish. I realize that each year I lose a few friends. As I loved them in life, I promise again not to forget them in death, especially in these occasions through the Holy Mass.

During the month of November, the month of the Holy Souls, it might be well to take time to write to friends you write to only once a year, or tell the people closest to you how much you love them, or visit those who are sick to assure them that they are not forgotten. Recall that these people, the closest of your loved ones, can and will repay your debts one day by begging God to grant you the freedom you gained for them.

“We have loved them in life; let us not forget them in death.” – St. Ambrose

Friday, October 30, 2009

Conversion is like a kitchen remodel

By Deacon John DeGano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Not so long ago, my wife, Cheryl, decided it was time to remodel the kitchen pantry. We had discussed it to death, but neither one of us in our hectic schedule had set a date for when it would begin.

We start tomorrow, she said. And you have until the Thursday after next to finish.

What? I asked, a bit incredulous. My mind raced through the calendar, hoping to see some miracle date when the planets would align and all would come together. I found none.

Why Thursday? I asked.

And, in that practical, matter-of-fact voice that can sometimes make one nuts, she said, “I’ve made arrangements for a maid service to come in and clean up after you. All the can goods, etc., need to be back in place before they arrive.”

I chuckled. Sounded logical to me, only we had never sat down and drawn up plans for what we wanted the new pantry to look like. I beamed up the internet and proceeded to educate myself on all things pantry.

It took a couple of days to finalize a tentative design, which changed and was tweaked as the work progressed until finally, a couple of days before the invasion, Cheryl looked at the progress I had made and cut me some slack.

“I’ll postpone the house cleaners,” she said. “I don’t want to put a lot of undue pressure on you…”

With an inner sigh, I nodded. We had about half of the job completed. Pretty good progress considering we had been working in the evenings and a couple of hours over the weekend.

At long last sanity ruled and thinking of our neighbors’ eardrums (and the police helicopter) when we fired up the circular saw in our backyard at 10 p.m., I had to agree with her prognosis and diagnosis.

In the light of day, it is better to do the job right and be happy with it than to rush and make mistakes.

I wistfully thought of how much I love Cheryl and felt solidarity for the family friends who are in the same kitchen remodeling mode. They’ve already been three or four weeks in can good and kitchen appliance disarray.

I thought I was getting off pretty easy. Only, the conversation did not end there. The next morning as we got in the car to go to work, the words every husband (and some wives) dreads came out of her mouth.

“Besides, I notice that the 1) carpet is getting old, 2) the kitchen flooring needs replacement – wood or tile? I can’t make up my mind, 3) the cabinets need something… Refacing? I don’t think I want to paint them. What do you think?”

I zoned out.

And then I thought… (conversion works a lot like home improvement projects).

You think you’ll replace a knob on a kitchen drawer and the next thing you know Jesus has you in diaconate formation!

Well, okay. Maybe that’s a stretch.

Conversion is a life-long project. It happens slowly, one project at a time (sort of like building the Winchester Mystery House). Never-ending.

But oh, what an adventure that relationship with God can be… The places you will go, the staircases you will climb! And if you are fortunate, the people you will meet and the lifelong friendships you will make.

Conversion only seems scary before you start. Once you begin by allowing God into your heart, you’ll soon come to realize, it is just a natural part of life.

A blessed life in Jesus Christ.

I hope your remodeling goes smoothly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Choosing a World of Global Solidarity

By Verne Schweiger
Director, Diocesan Office of Social Concerns

“Imagine,” the speaker asked those gathered, “a parent entering the family house. One of the children is sitting alone, crying inconsolably. Across the room another child is playing, apparently unconcerned. What does the concerned parent ask the suffering child?” After a moment, one listener responded, “What is wrong?” “Yes,” the speaker continued, “and then, what might the parent ask the other child?” Another answered, “What have you done?”

The speaker, Peter Kimeu of Catholic Relief Services- East Africa Region, then encouraged those gathered to imagine the parent as God and the children as members of His one human family. Some are crying. “Can we hear them?” he asked. Most people in Peter’s home country of Kenya exist on less than $2 a day, and 1.6 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The East African region has suffered many years of drought, as a consequence of which, nearly 30 million people are currently unable to grow or afford sufficient food for their daily needs. The crying voices of God’s children are heard from countries in Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas as well. The challenges suggested to those gathered were clear. What is wrong? What have we done? What can we do?

Peter Kimeu, along with Joe Hastings, the Education Organizer for CRS, West Coast Region, visited the Diocese earlier this month to promote global solidarity as part of the social mission of our parishes and our diocese. On October 7 Peter visited Aquinas High School. The next day he met with Auxiliary Bishop Rutilio del Riego and leaders from around the diocese. And on Oct. 10 Peter and Joe facilitated a discussion of the theme “Choosing a World of Global Solidarity: How Our Parishes Can make a Difference?” at the Diocesan Pastoral Center.

One story told by Peter recounted a moment while with a CRS team distributing milk to a long line of desperately hungry people. A fellow relief worker had just given a cup of milk to a little boy who was with his mother. After drinking the milk, the boy began to cry. The man, looking down at the little boy and then back along the long line of people waiting for some milk, expressed some irritation, “What does the boy want?” he asked. “Now,” replied the boy’s mother, “my child has a little strength to cry as a normal child again.” Peter, after reflecting on the one baptism with which we are all baptized and through which we are all children in the one family of our one God, asked, “Must we leave them to be crushed out there?”

Such shared stories of human suffering from across the world are often sad, even horrific. They call out to our hearts for compassion. They plead with us for our prayerful understanding. And they have moved millions of Catholics to faithful action.

Peter’s question again: “What can we do?” We share our resources. Ninety three percent of all funds contributed to Catholic Relief Services go directly to programs of emergency relief, health and food security, human and community development, peacemaking. We make decisions as consumers, voters and advocates based upon the teachings of our Church – decisions that make a difference. Recently, when Catholics in the U.S. acted as faithful citizens in advocating that Congress fully fund relief programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), they were filling lives with hope in places like Kenya, our brother Peter’s home.

Global solidarity is about sharing resources, but it is also about sharing stories, building relationships, becoming co-responsible in advancing the good news of lives lived in justice and in peace. In this regard, Pope Benedict, in his recent encyclical Caritas in veritate, writes, “Openness to God makes us open towards our brothers and sisters and towards an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.”

For more information and to learn of opportunities to promote global solidarity, please call the Diocesan Office of Social Concerns, 909.475-5465, and please visit

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Convocation, Year for Priests are food for the journey

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

Exhausted in the desert and ready to expire the prophet Elijah was visited by an angel who gave him food and drink so that he could continue his journey to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:4-8).

Like Elijah we all need nourishment to continue on our sometimes difficult journeys. Priests are no different.

The annual priest convocation held recently provided such an opportunity for re-energizing and refocusing on our vocation and its meaning to us. Over the course of the four-day gathering we talked about the challenges we face in our varied ministries, our successes and failures and the stress that comes with the responsibility being the primary spiritual leader in the Church.

The convocation was more than a group therapy session, of course. There was much good will and light-heartedness in the air as we took advantage of the opportunity to get reacquainted with or perhaps introduced to priests ministering at opposite corners of our vast diocese. Through our shared experience and our bonding time we were able to celebrate the resiliency of the priesthood and look to our vision beyond daily challenges – the building of God’s kingdom on earth.

Despite this past year of recession and continued high growth, I found the spirit among our clergy to be at its highest point in years. In fact, an independent survey conducted in advance of the convocation found the spiritual health of our priests to be better than most.

We exalt our priests, and rightly so, but we should also not forget that they are human beings. They have the same need for fellowship, affirmation and human connection that we do. Some of our faithful are reluctant to see their priest in that light, maybe because of the priest’s position of authority, their personality or even their culture. While priest and parishioner do occupy different roles in the living of our faith, it is important to remember that we are on the same journey in faith. We are traveling together in Elijah’s footsteps toward the mountain of God.

The Holy Father gave us cause to reflect on this when he proclaimed in June this ministerial year as the Year For Priests. For clergy, the Year For Priests offers a chance for spiritual renewal in their personal relationships with God, with their brother priests and with their people.

For the people, it is a year to revisit and strengthen your relationship with the priest or priests in your parish. I ask you to get to know them, accompany them in their ministry, engage with them as people – and, of course, pray for them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Statement of Bishop Barnes on Asia-Pacific disasters

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I ask you to please join me in prayer for all of those affected by the natural disasters that have occurred recently in the Asia-Pacific region of the world. We ask God to bless and strengthen our brothers and sisters in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Samoa and Tonga as they endure the loss and continued threat of these disasters. We also extend, in a special way, our prayer and support to the Asian-Pacific Islander communities in our diocese who are more directly impacted by these events. Through our diocesan Mission Office, I am encouraging our parishes to take a second collection in the coming weeks so that we can also help bear the cost of relief and recovery efforts that are being coordinated by Catholic Relief Services.

In Christ,
Most Reverend Gerald R. Barnes

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Seeing through our blind spots

By Jeanette Arnquist
Director of Community Services

Last week, during a visit to my ophthalmologist, I had my annual visual field test. I have glaucoma and this is standard procedure. For this test, basically I put my head in a box with one eye covered, stare straight ahead and press a clicker each time I see a dot of light flash. They tested my right eye first, and, as usual I was able to see almost all of the lights. Then they tested the left eye, which has much more damage. I know that I didn’t see as many lights or see them as frequently.

I hate to admit that there are things I can’t see, things I don’t get. I hate it when I do poorly on tests. I am a product of a culture that rewards being right and punishes being wrong. Denial is usually my first response.

In other areas of my life, there are things I can do to be able to see better. The first step for me is to admit that I have limitations and that I don’t see everything.

In his exegesis of the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Pope John Paul II identified the sin of the rich man as not having seen Lazarus when he lay at his gates. Sometimes I am too busy to see things. Sometimes I am too distracted. Sometimes I don’t want to see things because they are too painful or because if I see them, they will challenge my world view.

After I realize that I don’t see – after I have put aside my denial – then I begin to inventory the skills I have to see better.

I can examine my assumptions. For example, my parents raised me to assume that fresh fruits and vegetables are good for me. For the longest time, I assumed this as a hard and fast rule, and the fact that I often got really sick after eating fresh tomatoes or melons, well, that couldn’t be anything but random events. Finally, I discovered that I am actually allergic to those things.

I have other assumptions that I carry. When I hear an opinion about public policy, it is all too easy for me to just assume that it is either a lie or the truth. It is important for me to know that I have just made an assumption.

When I realize that I see things differently, I can ask clarifying questions. I can look for different perspectives than my own. I can engage in dialogue with people who express a different opinion. I can stop and review the situation. I can pray. I can be patient with myself (not easy.) I can let go of the goal of winning and chose the goal of understanding.

We live in a complex world where we all are, in fact, interconnected. What might produce a short term benefit for one group might damage another. How can the common good best be served?

Each day we hear different opinions about health care reform, immigration, the environment, war, poverty – and the list continues. Most of the time the idea of dialogue is not even considered and civility is abandoned. We see as much polarization among Catholics as we do in the House of Representatives. Our faith offers us values that go deeper than this and challenges us to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

What things do you have trouble seeing? Do you know what your assumptions are? What do you do when you find that you cannot see? How can your faith help you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ministry of education includes public schools

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

The scriptures tell us that wisdom and understanding bring “profit better than profit in silver, and better than gold is her revenue (Pv 3:13-14).”

Gaining wisdom and understanding is, of course, a lifetime process. But today we know that formal education is a big part of a person’s journey to find these two precious commodities.

The Catholic Church has long recognized this. We have a proud tradition of providing education directly in our Catholic schools, and our faith teaches that education is a fundamental right of every person.

Sometimes there is a misperception that our concern in the area of education is addressed entirely by our Catholic schools. While there is great work being done in our Catholic schools, they serve a tiny minority of Catholic youth in our diocese, most of whom attend public schools. In addition, we have many fine public school teachers, counselors and administrators in our diocese whose work is informed by their Catholic faith.

So our ministry of education has a broad context that includes supplementing and supporting the work of our public schools. To that end, the diocese is engaging in dialogue with two regional groups, the Alliance for Education and the Educational Leadership Federation, that are attempting improve public education in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Both groups are attempting, among other things, to reduce the worsening dropout rate in the region and improve college going rates among our young people.

What is the role of the Church in this? Initially, it lies in the key primer for success in school – the home. Through our religious education and through pilot partnerships between parishes and public schools, we have renewed our commitment to teach the foundational importance of education; why it is so important to stay in school; and how higher education is critical to professional success and achieving dignity for one’s self and family.

I have created a special committee to guide this effort that includes several educators from our diocese and is headed by Sister Carmel Crimmins, who brings significant experience in Catholic education, and Deacon Peter Bond, a retired public school teacher.

In some cases, our role will be to work with parents to ensure that these messages are being communicated and that a home life conducive to learning is in place. In other cases, as we have already done at Holy Family parish in Hesperia, we will work with both public schools students and their parents or guardians to support the importance of education.

By working with parents, students and public school organizations to strengthen and promote the value of education in our region we are actually fulfilling a commitment we made as a diocese many years ago. In establishing the vision for the diocese we said that “we cannot isolate ourselves from the problems and issues affecting our neighbors.” The public schools that teach so many of our Catholic children are such a neighbor.

As we look at education with this renewed and broad focus, it offers us another way to impact family, neighborhood and society with the Gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope. Sound familiar?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Faith is strengthened in experience of God

By Ted Furlow
Director, diocesan Office of Pastoral Planning

We have seen some interesting examples of runaway individualism recently. From the Oregon football player who struck an opponent and then went ballistic with the crowd, to the Representative from South Carolina calling out the President in the House as a liar, and to the mayhem that has passed for “Town Hall meetings” on health care, social conventions seem to have taken second place to my right to do my “own thing”.

I see it in our faith life as Catholics, with the recent statistics from the 2007-2008 Pew studies showing 32% of the baptized walking away from the faith, many simply to languish in a malaise listed as “unaffiliated"…. presumably doing their “own thing,” worshiping on Sundays at the NFL. The trends reported among the other 68% of Catholics who still claim the faith are of little help, since only 20% to 40% of them regularly participate in the Church. Strange behavior for persons raised Catholic, where doing your “thing” generally means doing it with someone else.

The numbers beg the question, “Why?” For the 32% who have left, is it sufficient to simply say that there was no longer a “there” there? And for the non-frequent faithful, is it a matter of a diminishing “there” that keeps them away? Someone once observed that our behavior in faith is predicated on our experience of religion... so is this a matter of having no experience?

Since I believe that anyone who places themselves in faith has some form of spiritual experience, perhaps the larger question is what is being done with that experience? Dr. Janet Ruffing of Fordham University, a Sister of Mercy who specializes in spiritual direction, touches on this in a 2007 article in Conversations, where she makes the point of tying spiritual experiences to the making of meaning. Anyone who has had a significant experience of the movement of God in their life will long for more, but working with a grammar school or Confirmation class level of formation, they may lack the skills that would help them to respond. How does someone see the change in them that is affected by a change in their relationship with God? How does someone understand that a growing relationship with God calls them to a change in all of their relationships? How does someone understand that while God is always at our core, how we relate to God and how we experience his indwelling presence changes over time?

We teach the children and then cast them off after Confirmation, confident that a 15 -20 minute homily once a week should bridge them to salvation. The Pew numbers say, “not.” Perhaps what the large body of 20somethings to 50somethings who are sitting in church, at home, or just watching the game wondering what it is all about, really need, is a companion to walk the journey with them. Like Jesus on the road to Emmaus, no one should walk alone. Spiritual directors do not make meaning of our experiences, but they help us make our own meaning, to find that Christic presence that is the indwelling of God that touched us in our person, and shaped our faith. We need to stop being individuals, and reach out to help and be helped.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Unsung Heroes

By Deacon John DeGano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Knowing who our heroes are says a lot about who we are as people. What our values are.

From childhood many of us grow up thinking that our parents are heroes. By our teen years, we have seen the cracks in their armor and have traded them in for comic book Super Heroes (as if regular heroes weren’t good enough) who may be daunted, but never fail in the end. Issue after issue they replay for us the same scenario: Super Hero minding own business. Bad guy tries to rule world. People in danger. Super Hero has to intercede and save the day. Receives (or doesn’t receive) accolades of a grateful people, nation or world.

It’s hard for a parent (or anyone else, for that matter) to measure up to fantasy.

Being human (and most parents are) there are bound to be flaws. Idiosyncrasies that drive others ‘a little nuts’ but lend flesh and character to a three-dimensional person (Mom, Dad, etc.) that the one-dimensional comic heroes do not possess (except in stark black and white hues).

We need to topple the pedestals we tend to put people on and spend a bit more time extolling the unsung heroes of our world who, day in and day out, provide for us the services that we take for granted.

The graphic designer/printer of the ‘green sheet’-type magazines when we’re looking to buy a used car or find a great deal at a yard sale. The guy at the car wash whose job it is to wipe down the water drops and spots after servicing so that we have a shiny car to drive to the store. Or the day laborer, whose plight (and harassment) we ignore, but who will be the first person we think to hire when we need a tree stump removed from our yard. The list is endless.

These are the ones whose praises we should sing, even if our voices are a bit off key.

The Gospel tells us that these are the ones who will inherit the earth… if we allow them jobs and housing and affordable health care to sustain them and their families. These are the ones who sit beside us in the pews and we don’t know (or get to know) their names.

Jesus must have known what he was doing when he gathered to himself the oddest bunch of misfits and losers in all of Galilee. Fishermen who were lousy at their jobs. Tax collectors who did their jobs too well. And everything in between. Pacifists, Middle-of-the-Roaders and Zealots.

And somehow they balanced each other out, challenged one another to become their best and managed, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be pretty good ‘fishers of men and women.’

So the next time you wonder how you can make a difference in your ministry, let me suggest that you look around and see if everyone looks and acts the same. If so, you may need to invite a few more unsung heroes into the mix. They might be catalysts for change that will bring joy and excitement back into your ministry life and the church.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Facebook and Happy Face Pancakes

By Sister Mary Frances Coleman, R.S.M.
Director, diocesan Office for Consecrated Life

I must admit I am not a great proponent of Internet communication. Though not a pure Luddite, I do have a Blackberry and gradually have come to know and appreciate its many uses and conveniences. I have somehow steered clear of most of the distractions that delight the tech-savvy. Until now, I have never blogged. I have never been on the major social networking sites Facebook or MySpace. A recent conversation with a friend, Helen Smith, however, opened my eyes to the possibilities of Facebook as a “new way of being with people,” perhaps even a new means of evangelization.

While chatting over a cup of coffee, Helen shared with me how she keeps in touch with her family and some friends on Facebook. She was obviously pleasantly surprised and grateful to hear from, John, a grade school classmate of her son. She told me that John and his sister were from a very underprivileged family. They attended Catholic school on reduced tuition for just two years, when tragedy struck the family. Their house burned down and their father died in the fire. There was immediate outreach from the school families, however John’s family had to move away and live elsewhere. Years after the two classmates found each other again on Facebook and John asked if he could invite Helen, Mrs. Smith, to be his Facebook “friend.”

Many of us have probably, at one time or another, thought of someone from our distant past who showed us God’s grace in a difficult time and we wished that we could thank them, today. Here we see this kind of gratitude expressed, via Facebook…

Not sure you remember me, but it's John. I went to Catholic school with your son. Its funny because I have been wanting to write this for some time, and felt like now is a good time. I wanted to thank you and your family for being an inspiration in my life at a young age that shaped a big part of the person I have come to be today.

When I was young there was a weekend where you allowed me to stay the night at your
house. It was the first time in my life where I sat down at a table for any meal as a family
and it was a moment that I think about often. Mrs. Smith, you made pancakes that
morning and they had happy faces on them…I have never forgotten that experience. Your house was the
biggest house I had ever been in and it was the first time I had set a goal for myself. Your
house was filled with a lot of love and kindness and I felt safe. I thank you for that.

I graduated from college in 99 and moved out of state and started working with
children as a case manager. What was funny was I would take the children who had
rough times happening in their lives to nice neighborhoods and tell them that they could
have all the things they see, if they do it the right way and go to school. I would tell them
about the family and the pancakes they could have…I have worked in the prison for a while and through this life so far have seen a lot of bad things, but the funny part about it is that when things get too tough, I feel myself sitting back in your house with your family eating pancakes with happy faces on them and being thankful for that time.

I have been wanting to thank your family for that for a long time, and let you know how
much it truly meant to me.

Thank you,

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Health care debate is another ‘teachable moment’

By Bishop Gerald Barnes
Diocese of San Bernardino

In these summer months the debate over health care reform has become a lightning rod issue that has inspired a lot of strong feelings on all sides. It’s no wonder. This is a critical issue that affects every American in some way.
I must admit that I am quite dismayed at the tone of the discussion, which is actually a generous word to describe the way that words are often being exchanged. The television reports that highlight confrontational, anger-fueled conduct at town hall meetings do not set a good example for us as we attempt to talk about what is a complicated issue.

We do not necessarily have to agree but our faith calls us to treat each other with dignity and respect. The words that we choose and the tone in which speak, regardless of the issue or circumstance, reflect the presence of the Spirit inside us. As our Lord, himself, tells us in Matthew’s Gospel, “from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Further, the emotion of this debate should not distract us from looking at health care from the perspective of our Catholic faith. Like other high profile social issues such as marriage and immigration, the debate of health care reform in the public square has provided us with a “teachable moment” about our own faith.

We have always believed and taught that health care is a fundamental right of all people. The Bishops of the United States have not proposed a reform package or taken a position for or against any proposed health care legislation, but we have offered that any reform should contain the following elements:

  • A truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity
  • Access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants
  • Preserving the common good and pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options
  • Restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has created a web site with more good resources about Catholic teaching on health care and suggestions for contacting policymakers to make your voice heard.

Please take some time to review this information. Then take some additional time to pray and reflect not only on your own stake in the discussion but that of all of our brothers and sisters who need and deserve quality health care.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Our God is a God of great Joy

By Deacon John DeGano
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside

Our God is a God of great Joy!

And we can see God’s sense of humor scattered throughout the pages of the Holy Scriptures. Where else do you find a Zacchaeus (that ‘wee little man’) abandoning his pride and lofty social status in order to climb a tall sycamore tree to get a look at Jesus? Or to be doubly blessed when Jesus sees him and invites himself to Z’s house for supper!

Or what about Lazarus’s remains in the tomb? The people are more concerned with the potential smell of decay than they are in Jesus bringing his friend back to life!

It’s human conditioning, I suppose, to look to the dark side, but I certainly don’t believe that it is God’s way or even human nature to do so. There are just too many occurrences of God’s humor throughout our day and week for it to be a random coincidence.

My friend Rob knows I am a permanent deacon assigned to St. Catherine of Alexandria, Riverside and, although he isn’t a particularly religious person himself, he would agree with my statement from personal experience. Rob hears God speaking to him.

No, he is not what some might call crazy or even a modern-day Jean d’Arc. He is just a normal guy who happens to build things. One day, while visiting, he cautiously shared some startling news with me. “God has a sense of humor!”

When I did not react negatively, he relaxed a bit and told me of his encounter with God. I listened politely, but noticed he remained agitated. When I asked if there was something else I could do, he asked me to go with him to the store where he needed to purchase a few items. Duct tape. Metal screws. Stuff like that.

Open to the possibility of an encounter with God, I drove Rob to the store where we paused briefly outside for some last minute instructions.

“Listen,” he said. “The key is in the music that is playing.”

We walked through the front door and headed down the aisle to the duct tape. About half way there, the Rolling Stones tune “You can’t always get what you want…” began to fill the air. Rob halted abruptly in front of the tape shelf, turned and pointed at the shelves.

“See,” he said.

The shelves for duct tape were empty. There were spools of blue painter’s tape. Clear sealing tape. And even foam tape. But the most popular brand of tape was M.I.A.

How could this be?

“I couldn’t share this with anyone else,” he said sheepishly, “but it happens to me all the time. I think God’s trying to tell me something by all of this. But what?”

I had to allow the possibility. I had heard the music. I had witnessed the miracle of the vanishing duct tape. Just as Rob foretold. God obviously had plans for Rob.

We returned home, completely forgetting about the other items and laughed at ourselves for doing so. Rob would go back another day. The partial roll in the garage would do until then.

During this season of Ordinary Time, where Jesus’ daily actions are the stuff of miracles, we need to remember that our God is a God of great wonder and awe: Sending angels to shepherds, to Joseph and Mary; multiplying loaves and fish; raising the dead and curing the deaf, the blind and the lame.

I had to ask myself, if God could and did all that, what would prevent the usage of modern technology in order to call forth a simple man of dubious faith, share with him the gift of God’s boundless joy and presumably set him on the road to discipleship?

Deacon John shares a joyful moment with a guest of honor during the parish’s annual Blessing of the Animals celebration in front of the church.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The New Kid in Town

By Rev. Manuel "Manny" Cardoza
St. Catherine of Alexandria, Temecula

I was speaking to a group of kiddoes last month after my ordination and I was telling them that having such a close relationship with Jesus was totally awesome, but also crazy scary. I told them that the thing we have to realize when journeying with Jesus was that he will take you places where you didn’t expect or at times don’t even want to go. But when you give your life to him he won’t lead you astray. In seminary I did a various amount of ministries from working in a nursing home, RCIA, prison ministry, as a parish and the Emergency Room at a hospital. Some of these I was totally trippin about, I was like “Jesus what the heck, dude!” But as usual Jesus was on top of everything and I loved doing each of these ministries. I also went to some pretty awesome places, like San Antonio, New York City, London and Italy. All these experiences really helped me have a fuller understanding of what it meant to be a priest. We are truly called to be a servant as Jesus was as well as to help folks have a closer relationship with the Lord, that they may have everlasting life. This is why he sent me here to St. Catherine of Alexandria, [Temecula] to assist the people of St. Catherine in their faith journey.

This first two months as a priest have been awesome. Jesus was right when he called me to this thing, the holy priesthood, and I could already see the countless blessings that this call has given. For my first weekend at the parish I was preaching at all the Masses, in order that the parish could get to know me and I could start meeting all the wonderful people here at the parish. But as you might imagine, after six Masses, it was wearing on me, even at a youthful 31 years old. On returning for the final 6 p.m. Mass, I was like “all right Jesus, you’re gonna have to get me through this one, I’m pooped!” And of course he responded in kind, giving me so much energy and enthusiasm that I was hyped up for another two hours after the mass!

This is just one example of the blessings and graces that the Lord gives you in order to give yourself completely to the people and love them as he loves them. Just knowing that the Lord has granted us this power to change bread and wine to his body and blood, the authority to forgive sins and the power to make new Christians is so awesome and overwhelming. Even the people of God, they are so gracious and loving that, through their faith, they help me on my journey as a priest. As the “new kid in town” it has been such a blessing going from seminary living to being a priest for the diocese as well as for this parish. I am grateful to Almighty God for his gift of the priesthood as well as the gift of the People of God. Let us continue to journey as one people to our ultimate goal, to spend eternity with our loving God and remember, “Jesus loves you!”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Prayer in awe

By John Andrews
Director of the diocesan Department of Communications

I made a short trip to Washington D.C. this week to join a group of faith leaders in lobbying federal legislators to reform our immigration laws. Our aim was to show the power of the faith community, united in its call for reform.

But I experienced the power of faith in a different way on this trip, as well. Staying at the Theological College I was just across Michigan Avenue from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The credentials of this place, which I admit I was not fully aware of before I arrived, are incredible. It is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America. It has the largest collection of contemporary Christian art in the United States. It contains over 60 chapels and oratories. And there I was, staying right across the street. Talk about dumb luck.

My first morning in town I ventured over for Mass, held in the Crypt Church in the lower floor of the Shrine. On my way to the church, I wandered through the “Hall of Memories,” thousands of names etched on walls and columns, and gazed at statues of some of the patron saints of parishes in our diocese – Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Elizabeth Ann Seton and Frances Xavier Cabrini.

The National Shrine is one of our pre-eminent Marian shrines. The different personifications of the Blessed Mother were beautiful and varied, from the somber Our Mother of Sorrows chapel to the ornate and vibrant Chapel of Our Lady of La Vang, the patroness of Vietnam.

Tuesday morning I decided to check out the main church. It was breathtaking and, initially, a bit intimidating. This is truly God’s “house,” a place for properly reverent prayer and reflection. As I walked through and looked at the Marian chapels, and at the huge face of Christ above the altar, I began to realize that I was in prayer. I knelt for formal prayer several times but the entire time in this building was to receive God and to commune with Him.

Not surprisingly, I lost track of time and nearly missed my plane. I don’t have to tell you that it would have been worth it for my time in this glorious house of God.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Loss Reminds Us of God's Gift of Life

By Marifer Cortes
Diocesan Office of Small Faith Communities

Since the death of my grandmother three years ago, my immediate family and I had not lived through the loss of a family member. It wasn’t until the beginning of June of this year that we experienced the tragic loss of another close member of our family, my father’s older sister. She was diagnosed with cancer and in three weeks time the Lord called her to be by his side.

The news of my aunt’s illness made me realize that life is too short and that I need to enjoy it as much as I can with the people that I love. It is truly amazing how we can let the small things lead us away from the true meaning of life. With the loss of my aunt, all of us in the family reflected on our lives and it created a bond between us that I had not felt in a very long time. Once again I realized how merciful God is and how in the midst of sadness and pain he can also give you blessings. I believe that losing a loved one is difficult for anyone and most often we drown ourselves in sadness and pain. But if we allow ourselves to open our hearts we can also see the blessings that are offered to us. Blessings that go beyond materialistic things, ones that fill our spiritual life and that give us reasons to keep living and become better human beings. Yes, the loss of my aunt was unexpected, but then again so were the blessings and it has reminded me of the importance of family and how we must always give love to those close to us.

I often wonder why we as human beings don’t realize all that we have until it’s gone.

Nuestras perdidas nos recuerdan el regalo de la Vida que Dios nos da

Por Marifer Cortes
Oficina de Pequeñas Comunidades de Fe

Desde la muerte de mi abuela hace tres años, mi familia inmediata no había vivido la perdida de un ser querido, no fue hasta principios de junio de este año, que vivimos la perdida de otro ser querido y de alguien muy cercana a mi familia; fue la muerte repentina de la hermana mayor de mi padre. Fue diagnosticada con cáncer y más o menos en tres semanas el Señor la había llamado con él.

Desde el diagnostico fue para mí, como una sacudida que la vida es corta y necesito gozarla, vivirla y compartirla con mis seres queridos. Es realmente impresionante como por pequeñeces nos podemos desviar y perderle sentido a la vida. La partida de mi tía nos sacudió a todos en mi familia, pero sin embargo la familia se unió más y constate una vez más que tan misericordioso es Dios y como rodeada de dolor y tristeza te llena de bendiciones. Creo que para nadie es fácil perder un ser querido y a menudo nos hundimos en nuestra tristeza y dolor pero si logramos abrir nuestro corazón hay muchas bendiciones que son para nosotros, bendiciones que van más allá de lo material, que llenan la vida espiritual y nos dan razones para seguir viviendo y ser mejores seres humanos. Sí, la partida de mi tía fue inesperada, pero así han sido las bendiciones, me ha recordado la importancia de la familia y vivir en cordialidad con los nuestros.

A menudo me pregunto, por que como seres humanos a veces no nos damos cuenta de lo mucho que tenemos hasta que lo vemos perdido.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Gift of the Priesthood

By Rev. Mark Lander
Holy Innocents, Victorville

Over a decade ago, before I was ordained, I spent a summer walking in the footsteps of Jesus. I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, journeyed down to Egypt, enjoyed the Sea of Galilee from the shore and by boat, and made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I was in the seminary at the time and this was a splendid opportunity for both retreat and experience of study. Who is this Jesus in whose footsteps I am walking? Who is this Christ who has called me to follow in them?

The above questions have continued to guide me in my understanding of the priesthood and the gift that it is not only for myself but also for those with whom I come in contact. God became man, and people today long for a chance to encounter God, just as they did when he walked upon the earth. When our Lord ascended to heaven, he gave his apostles the very authority and power that he had in his ministry. This is an awesome gift to consider, one which demands not only gratitude but heartfelt humility.

And while I am thankful for the vocation and gift which I enjoy, I cannot let a sense of false humility blind me to the reality that the priesthood remains a gift to all of God’s People. When I bless a couple when they voice their vows of marriage, or I tell a child the words of the Father, “you are my beloved son” when I baptize him; when I bless a house placing it under God’s care when the owners fear other spiritual forces, or when I assure a despairing youth that she is indeed Forgiven; when I visit a dying grandmother in her home surrounded by her family, or anoint a young adult, confident of the Lord’s healing; when I preach God’s Justice tempered with Mercy, and when I say the words of our Savior, “This is my Body…This is the cup of my Blood,” then I am reminded that it is not I who act, but rather the Lord Jesus. I can think of no greater gift that God has given the world; he has given himself.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Papal encyclical calls us to global awareness

By Verne Schweiger
Director of the Diocesan Office of Social Concerns

This week marked the publication of the first papal social encyclical of the 21st century; Pope Benedict XVI’s long awaited Caritas in Veritate. And I am moved to ask, with reverence and with all seriousness, “Why should this matter?”

I here offer two responses for consideration. First, this matters precisely because it is a letter from the Pope; and it is addressed to us. It is addressed to all of us, we who live and work, buy, invest, sell, debate, organize, vote, worship; and in doing so, we make decisions. Second, because those decisions matter. Decisions about family and career, business and finance, policy and law, decisions that affect the young, the old, the poor, the displaced, the environment matter. They matter to the life of each individual, and to the good of the life we share in common. Such decisions need to be based upon something other than the shifting sands of preference and opinion. The Holy Father writes to help us reflect upon developing our lives upon the solid foundation of “charity,” which he defines as “love received and given.” And love, he writes, can “be authentically lived” only in “truth.”

Perhaps a third response is also in order. Not only did Caritas in Veritate arrive as a letter to us this week. Along with it arrived a “teachable moment.” “Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine,” writes the Holy Father in the Introduction, and this social doctrine “illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging.” In the midst of our current global economic crisis, we have received the gift of this illuminating reflection, in which, as one commentator summarized, “Benedict makes essential connections between charity and truth, between the protection of life and the pursuit of justice, between rich and poor, between business and ethics, between care for the earth and care for the “least of these.”
The entire encyclical is available at I am also informed that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is working to equip diocesan, parish, and other ministry leaders with resources to help us explore and promote the message of the Holy Father. By next week an individual reflection guide, a small group study guide and other educational materials should be available at

Friday, July 3, 2009

A visit from “the Queens”

By Bishop Gerald Barnes

As the Bishop of a large diocese I am confronted with many weighty matters that take a great deal of my strength (and God’s) to address. So it is the small and sometimes unexpected moments of grace that are so important and sustaining. Such a moment came this week when I was paid a visit by a group of five royally dressed young ladies, whose ages range from 8 to 19 years old, from the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Mecca. Many of us know the story of Mecca, a very poor but extremely faithful community made up primarily of farm workers and immigrants. Some of us also know that more than two years ago the roof of the church collapsed and left the people to worship in a tent until last October when their new church was finally opened.

The parish is renovating the original church to serve as a parish center. In March they called on the young ladies, who were introduced to me as the “Queens of the Grape Harvest,” to help raise money for the project. The “Queens” presided over food sales, car washes, a raffle and other fundraisers. By the time they were finished, they had raised $72,000. That is more than many families in their community will earn in two or three years.

Much is written and said these days about the changes in our youth culture and the challenge of maintaining a living Catholic faith in our young people. As I looked at the “Queens” in their regal dresses and crowns and listened to them talk about why they put forth so much effort to help repair their church building, I couldn’t help but think that the Holy Spirit is at work in this generation, too. “The top of the church was all broken. I was helping it to be beautiful,” said one. Another was moved to tears as she spoke about receiving a blessing from her grandmother before she was selected as one of the queens.

At the end of their visit to the Diocesan Pastoral Center, I offered a blessing to the “Queens.” As I reflect on their story, I give thanks to God for blessing us with such faith-filled young people.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Welcome to the Diocesan Blog

By Bishop Gerald R. Barnes

First, let me thank your for visiting our new diocesan blog. Those who know me may be surprised to see this. They will tell you that I am not, by nature, a tech-savvy person (and they would be correct). But I also understand that the world does not stand still and there are always new ways of communication that must be undertaken to further our mission of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Holy Father echoed this recently when he launched his own channel on You Tube. He said he wants to encounter people “where they are at.”

So we will follow Pope Benedict’s lead by communicating with you regularly on the Internet. I will check in with postings as often as I can but others in diocesan and parish leadership will share stories and reflections on their ministries in this blog.

For me, this is also a reflection of my desire to reach out to our younger generation, who I know prefers this kind of communication. But it is certainly not only for our youth. For those who yearn to hear more than a Sunday homily or for the person who wants a Catholic perspective on an issue of the day, this blog will be here for you.

Again, I invite you to join us on this electronic journey in faith, and welcome to the diocesan blog.